Yarn & Coffee looks like a quaint shack buried in the back parking lot of The Pantry. It's been a 10-year project for Deborah Grossman, who first conceptualized her own 'knit and coffee' shop in 2001.

Grossman began hosting "stitch 'n' bitches" at her house, an after-work convention of crocheters, knitters, sewers, one baker "and sometimes," Grossman says, "people just came to bitch."

During that period, Grossman was working in the IT department of a medical clinic. "I got laid off in September [2012], and I thought I could get another job in computers," but the alternative was too good to pass up.

There's a living-room ambiance to her café—sofas, rocking chairs, cupboards (stacked with hanks, balls and skeins of yarn)—and the first room, in particular, emanates the feel of a Cape Cod sunroom, with huge rectangles of glass that stream in light.

Knitting's been quite the trendsetter these days—a DIY venture that somehow has needlepointed its way into underground artistry.

In 2005, Houston, Texas' Magda Sayeg, along with a collective of fellow knitters, founded "Knitta Please," a radical yarn-bombing warfare that, rather than destruct public objects, embellishes them: trees, statues, poles, etc.

Knitta spawned a worldwide movement of, as they're called, guerrilla knitters, who continue to embellish public properties and, in one particular case, a Humvee M1026 (a blatant political statement by Santa Fe artist Shirley Klinghoffer, who dressed a Humvee vehicle in a 15-foot knitted cozy).

"It's about aesthetics," Kathyrn Davis says. Davis, alongside Eileen Braziel, curated Pretty Tough: Gender in 21st Century Artmaking, a very tactile exhibition that explores the masculine and feminine attributes of art.

Concerning knitting, Davis says, "It's stereotypically female."

Because knitting and crocheting was, in essence, an at-home craft—especially during Victorian times, when a proper lady needlepointed in the parlor while she waited for her gentleman caller to arrive­—it's no surprise that when a knitter/crocheter is asked the inevitable, "Who taught you?" the answer is, most conventionally, "My mother."

When I first walk into Eileen Braziel's studio and shake hands with Davis and Braziel, Davis remarks, "Your hands are freezing!" Thirty seconds later, all three of us are lassoed up in a 30-foot crocheted shawl, crafted by Amy Schmierbach, an up-and-coming artist featured in Pretty Tough.

Schmierbach learned the craft from her mom and, ever since, has incorporated the hobby into her artistic trade.

In her gallery exhibitions, spectators are actually encouraged to touch the displayed pieces with signs tacked to the wall that read, "Please Touch"—an invitation to interact.

"I just want people to relate to the work," Schmierbach says. "Because," after all, "I can just wash it."

Originally conceived as a traveling show, Braziel and Davis' exhibition sought to represent the individual's intimate relationship to the art; an organic exploration—whether it's by the artist or the spectator—to touch and be touched by the exhibition.

"It's calming; it's cathartic. I know you're not supposed to say that about the art...but I think that," Schmierbach muses.

There's also something about knitting that promotes community.

Schmierbach gathers with her friends to knit and crochet—a productive hangout.

"You don't really see painting groups coming together," she says, "or ceramics coming together." But knitting, well, that's a different story.

That's why Grossman, mustering the balls (of yarn) necessary, is trading IT for Yarn & Coffee: a lifelong dream.

"I think people who knit and crochet like to congregate with other people who knit and crochet," she says. It's as simple as that.

Like Schmierbach, Grossman learned to knit from her mother, and so, the tradition continues. With a twist.  
"I taught my son's class," Grossman says.  

Yarn & Coffee opens Friday, Feb. 1, at 11 am. 1836 Cerrillos Road, 780-5030